Ashland Celebrates 100 Years of Football

Nate Powalie, Sports Columnist

Ashland Football’s 100th anniversary celebratory logo featured as a special helmet decal. (BEN VOELKER)

Ashland University’s Football program is preparing to celebrate its centennial anniversary, but this season, something is different. 

Last fall, the team announced that starting in 2021, they will be participating in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC).

 Despite the departure from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC), the winning history and tradition hopes to continue in 2021. After all, the team has won 505 games through its first 99 campaigns. 

 Nine players have represented Ashland in the NFL, and from its early days playing at Redwood Stadium, to its current digs at Martinelli Field, the Eagles have a rich program to look back on. 

Head Coach Lee Owens is looking to continue his legacy, as he enters his 18th season with the team. 

“It’s just a perspective and an opportunity to honor the passing of Coach [Fred] Martinelli, and with him, [former Head Coach] Gary Keller, and myself, we have a large legacy,” Owens said. “We look to build on the past with tradition. The significance of this season is to step back and take note of the past, as well as earn the respect of Division II football around the country.”

Martinelli, who coached the team for 35 years, passed away this past May at the age of 92.

Originally, the 100th anniversary season celebration was scheduled to take place during the 2020 campaign, but fall sports were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For one particular player, the skipped year was seen as a bonding process.

“The year off from Covid brought us together,” defensive back Jourdan Swett said. “We’re trying to build a winning culture around the squad. It’s going to be a special year.”

 In 2019, the Eagles finished with a 7-4 record, placing them third in the GLIAC.

Looking ahead to the upcoming season, which will be Ashland’s first in the GMAC, the schedule provides some familiar foes and some new schools to square off against.

For Coach Owens, a new slate of teams provides some old rivalries renewed and some new squads to ignite challenges.

“Our non-league schedule is formidable with Notre Dame College and Ferris State,” he said. “In the GMAC, Findlay has typically been our biggest Ohio rival, with Hillsdale being our competition for the Traveling Trophy. Tiffin was picked as the best in the GMAC, so they’re a team to beat, as well.”

The keyword surrounding the team this year is legacy. For quarterback Austin Brenner, the word has the hope of many wins.

“I don’t think it will be much about the legacy I will leave behind, but all of us as a team,” Brenner said. “We hope to win a lot of games this year.”

For Ashland University’s football program, this year marks a major milestone in their history. As they prepare for their 100th anniversary season, they play in the shadow of legends such as Fred Martinelli, and this year’s group looks to etch their names into the history books.